Among the many challenges of starting or growing a business, getting the word out about your product or service is certainly one of the most difficult. Generating awareness among consumers is a crucial driver of both initial and ongoing success once you go to market. After all, people can't buy something they don't know about!
I hear this question from my entrepreneur friends all the time: "How do I get media coverage for my business?" I've given more than a few different answers over the years, but it usually boils down to this simple concept--the media responds to master communicators.
These days, innovation is moving at the speed of light. Very few of us are doing anything totally new, but that doesn't mean that you can't make your story newsworthy. It's all about the way you tell it. And the one thing you will always have that your competitors won't is your own unique perspective.
Look at it this way--dealing with the media means you're dealing in intangibles. You've got to be able to sell them an idea or a feeling that they believe will resonate with their audience(s). This means, you must find which part of your story is the most relatable and amp it up!
According to Kyle Erickson, Associate Director at Markstein--a strategic communications agency based in Birmingham, Ala.--in order to kill it with the media, you must first master a very particular set of communication skills. He's shared his top six with us:
Master the art of storytelling.
You're selling your business directly to storytellers--literally. Do you think you'd have better luck feeding a journalist a bland press release or dry product description, or would they respond better to a perfectly presented story primed for publishing? Engaging, impactful storytelling has the power to transform information into insight, and insight into inspiration. That's what most audiences want, after all--relatable, reliable information that inspires them. Only a great story has the capacity to achieve this. Remember--you're pitching professional writers. Sloppy writing is the easiest way to find your work relegated to the trash can. That is bad for your business and your reputation. Before public-facing content leaves the safety of your desk, have one or two trusted colleagues review it for grammar errors and potential conflicts of interest. Trust me--Quality Assurance (QA) protocols are your friend. Your best friend.
Be the trendiest person in the room.
It's called "The News" for a reason. You need to be keenly in tune with what's happening in the world and across social media platforms. If you're not paying close attention, you may miss a great opportunity to insert your business into a positive, trending conversation. Conversely, if you're unaware of recent negative exposure about a product, service or industry you're pitching, your business may inadvertently become part of a story that damages the brand. This is easily avoidable negligence, and can be managed by staying plugged in and checking your politics at the door. You need to know what both FOX News and MSNBC are reporting. You need to understand why The Washington Post hasn't picked up a story yet, but it's all over Breitbart. Better yet, you need to anticipate it. Dedicate time to media monitor each day, and not only will you learn how media ebbs and flows, but also spot opportunity and potential problems.
Get a PhD in media research.
Not a real one, just an honorary one. You need to research your target audience. You need to know your audience's audience. You need to understand why the reporter you're pitching is right for the story, and you need to let them know that you know why they're right for it. Nothing irritates a journalist more than a grossly misplaced pitch, and--other than ridiculous grammatical errors--nothing will get you blackballed faster. Spend time researching what your target covers and the voice in which they do so. This will allow you to provide them what they want AND need, and tailor your approach in a way that resonates stylistically. Media databases can be helpful, but do not rely solely on them. Journalists' beats can be vague, and it takes legwork to really understand the topics they want to cover. Be thoughtful and take a research-driven approach--the fruits of these efforts usually taste like great working relationships.
Mutate so fast you can't be treated.
Think like a virus--a virus that creates extraordinary value for its host (read: your business). This weirdly relevant analogy is me telling you that conditions in the media and technology landscape are changing rapidly, so you better drive it like you stole it or you'll be eradicated by the competition. The only way to stay ahead of the game is to pivot as soon as you spot the tide shifting. Perhaps that means the rise of a new social media platform, the launch of a better analytics tool or shift in consumer consumption patterns. The message here is that complacency or stagnation is a surefire way find yourself playing "catch up" instead of "catch me."
Network like a boss.
True networking masters don't just forge connections, they are connectors. Focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with the media by being proactive and responsive. Start with a great, well-placed idea and then over-deliver. Properly prepare, be on time for interviews, have a contingency plan and always be professional. If a journalist asks for something you may not have, go out of your way to connect him or her with someone who can provide it. They'll remember that gesture far longer than any great idea you might have.
Become the manager of messages.
Messaging, messaging, messaging. Live and breathe it. Messaging is the foundation of strategic communications, and must be the first priority before starting a campaign. It informs how you speak about yourself, and the media speaks about you. The message is what needs to resonate with and be remembered by target audiences, otherwise your efforts are pointless. A great way to ensure success is to develop a messaging guide for your business before developing a communications strategy. Once messaging is in place, you can take an integrated and omnichannel approach to ensure your brand is represented consistently across all platforms.
So just to reiterate: you DO have a story to tell. Success with the media is all about the WAY you tell it. Use Kyle's tips to really define your message and see where it takes you. Good luck!